Building a Personal Learning Solution: 10 Steps to Control Information Overload and Take Back Your Life

When you look at the statistics of how much training actually gets retained by learners and how much training actually transfers back to the workplace, you have to ask yourself two questions. Why are we doing training? What can we do better? The problem with most training is that it doesn’t fill an immediate need. What’s the point in taking a class on Microsoft Access if I’m not going to use it for six months or worse don’t even have the software installed. Sounds crazy but believe me it happens. One of the other problems with training is that of ownership. We’ve grown up in this 20th century idea of training with the “sage on the stage”–of one person disseminating information and the learners hoping to learn it all through osmosis. It just doesn’t work that way.

Real learning is a participatory act or a dance between the learners and the facilitator and the learners among themselves. But what to do with information pouring in daily by the gigabyte? Too much to do and too much to keep up with. Enter the personal learning solution = personal learning environment + personal learning network. The 23 Things Program was the first widely distributed example of a personal learning solution. Participants used a blog to keep track of their learning, participants connected with other bloggers, and participants learned a lot about Web 2.0 and technology that was new to them.

In many ways PLSs are ideal for library staff who must manage lots of information with a limited amount of time. The following slides were used this week for a presentation for LibraryLinkNJ. Take a look at them to learn more about PLSs.

View more presentations from Lori Reed
My PLS has and will continue to change over time. Initially it consisted of thousands of RSS feeds in Google Reader. But then I got tired of seeing the count of 1000+ unread items. My true unread count–Google can’t even count as high. Next I navigated to Facebook and Twitter where I made more personal connections with other trainers and library staff. I like that the information is instant, timely, and doesn’t give me a read versus unread count. If I miss something, I can be sure that someone else out there will share the information. This past summer I migrated towards having all my information come into my Gmail account where I set up filters to organize and file the information. Your PLS will be unique to you and it will and should change over time.
If you are creating or thinking about updating your PLS, I’d encourage you to start with the end in mind and think about your goal. No one can keep up with everything. Is your goal to be a better trainer? To stay informed on local, community events? To learn more about one topic? To keep up with the latest tech news? Or to keep up with library news in general? Start with a specific goal and add more content only when you feel comfortable with the amount you already have.
In the following weeks as I embark on a new job and new phase in my career, my learning and information needs will definitely change. As I transition from a focus on “training” to a broader scope of customer relationships and end-user experiences, my information needs will look very different. With my thousands of feeds, I’ve decided to delete them all and start over fresh with a limit of 100 feeds. By effectively filtering information as it comes in using Google Alerts and Twitter Searches I should be able to keep my list of feeds to a manageable size. I’m reminding myself daily that quality should be chosen over quantity.
As we enter to into an early Spring, at least here in North Carolina, I invite you to do some early Spring cleaning and take stock of your information consumption by doing the following:
  1. Mark all your RSS feeds as read. I hear stories of people who get stressed just thinking about the number of unread RSS feeds they have. Remember that technology is here to serve us not the other way around. If you miss something important your sure to see it again from another source.
  2. Prune your RSS subscriptions to an amount that is manageable for you, or delete your feeds and start over.
  3. Know when to subscribe to RSS versus when to bookmark a site. Do you really want to read every post? Or do you want to make sure you can find the site again? Delicious and Pinboard are great bookmarking tools.
  4. Use lists in TweetDeck to manage the people and information you follow. Set up groups based on how much you want to see from the people in the group. The smaller the group, the more you will see. Add keyword columns to search on topics that are relevant to you. Twitter can easily get unmanageable without tools to manage lists.
  5. Unsubscribe from people who complain or are just generally negative all the time. Why surround yourself with negativity.
  6. Unsubscribe from people who post little of value to you. The information may be great, but as your needs change so should the people you follow. Get over the Twitequette that says you need to follow back anyone who follows you.
  7. Learn to use Facebook’s lists feature. You can create lists of coworkers, personal friends, family, librarians, or just about any list imaginable. The benefit is two-fold. First, you can click a button and see only the updates from those most important to you–close friends and family. Second, you can post updates that only specific lists of friends can see. If I’m posting about my cat or children, I may not want all 500 of my friends to see the post. Likewise if you are at a conference, you don’t want to overload your non-library friends and family with ALA totebag posts.
  8. Schedule time each day for online information consumption. 30 minutes should be adequate for most people. If you are in a PR, marketing, or role that requires you to keep track of more information, then adjust the time accordingly. If you are a manager who expects your staff to stay current on library news and information, make that expectation clear and schedule time for staff to do it. If it’s not scheduled it won’t happen.
  9. Schedule time each day to play and set a timer! Facebook is a time suck! Acknowledge that and do something about it. If you are ok with spending hours each night playing Words With Friends or preparing a new crop for Farmville, and it doesn’t affect your personal life, great! But if it interferes with your family relationships or causes you to neglect other parts of your life, do something about it and set a timer. Did you know that inpatient centers are popping up to treat Internet addiction? Internet addiction is real and is more prevalent than you might realize. If you are using the Internet to escape some part of your life, get help. Life is too short to live in a virtual world like the folks in the movie Wall-E.
  10. Don’t forget to take time to participate in your networks. Comment on blogs. Post links to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Add to the discussions taking place. If you don’t have anything to add, offer encouragement to someone having a bad day. This is your social network karma.

I hope this information and tips are helpful. I’d love to hear from you in the comments? What does your personal learning solution look like? And how are you controlling the overload of information?

UPDATE: If you are looking for a tool to manage multiple social media accounts. Check out this great review of three products from the Social Media Examiner.

Comment Challenge Day 7

Day 7: Reflect on what you’ve learned so far.

Hmmm. I will start out by saying this is a lot of work! All of it. Blogging, reading blogs, and providing meaningful comments. Luckily a wise person once told me to stop watching TV. I took her advice and I have lots of time for fun things like this.

I think the key to being successful in this community is you have to manage your time well. It’s so funny how often this world reflects the real world. In the real world I would not spend hours flipping through hundreds of magazines looking for interesting articles. Instead I would pick a few favorites, read them thoroughly, and occasionally try a new one out.

For me I think blogging needs to be the same. For the past year I have subscribed to almost every library or training blog I’ve come across. That might help explain my 611 feeds. I will admit I don’t read all of them. There are a few that I read daily. The rest I skim for information. I have this fear of missing out on something. But I’ve come to realize that as long as I subscribe to a few select blogs I won’t miss anything! The biblioblogosphere is good about sharing information!

So my task will be to pare down the feeds. I am not going to unsubscribe. Instead I am going to rearrange my folders so that my favorite blogs are in their own folder and focus my time on those. I’ll also work on narrowing down my search feeds. Do I really need to see every post that has the words library and training? Probably not.

So while my reflection has little to do with the comment challenge, it sets me on the path to being able to be a better commenter by focusing my attention.

I’d love to hear from some of the other bibliobloggers who I’m sure have massive amounts of feeds. How much time do you spend a day reading feeds? Do you read all of them? Do you filter feeds with searches? What other tips can you share with the rest of us who suffer from too many blogs, too little time?

Michael Stephens, Meredith Farkas, Helene Blowers, Sarah Houghton-Jan, Jenny Levine just to name a few. Anyone else please feel free to comment too!

Week 4 Things 8 & 9: RSS Feeds

I remember when I first attended a demo for staff of RSS feeds. It took me a while to get it, and at that point I was not reading nearly as many feeds as I am now. I discovered, quickly, that a News Reader is a must to keep up with information.

Years ago I used My Yahoo. Last year I tried Bloglines but did not like the linear form of it. Then I tried NetVibes and appreciated its visual appeal. I quickly learned that NetVibes was only manageable with a limited number of feeds. Then NetVibes added tabs, and I was in love… until my account got erased and all my feeds and links were lost. After that I switched back to Bloglines and have never turned back.

One of the best features about Bloglines is that it is not just for RSS feeds. You know all those e-mail subscriptions that you sign up for that clutter your Inbox? You can have those sent directly to Bloglines and keep them archived there!

Here’s how to subscribe to an e-mail newsletter with Bloglines:

Step 1: After logging in to Bloglines, click Add in the upper left column

Step 2: Click Email Groups in the right window pane

Step 3: Add the name of a Yahoo or Google Group or click Create an Email Subscription

Step: 4 Fill out the New Email Subscription Form and click the Create Email Subscription button

Step 5: In the Email Subscriptions window you will see a list of your email subscriptions followed by a Bloglines e-mail address. Select and copy this e-mail address.

Step 6: Go to the Web site that has the subscription form. Paste in the Bloglines e-mail address. This is your new e-mail address for this subscription only.

Step 7: After you have subscribed to the newsletter, go back to Bloglines and you should see a feed listed for your e-mail subscription. You will notice an envelope icon next to it. Click on the feed to view the newsletter.

The best part about this is you can easily “unsubscribe” by deleting the feed. You can add an unlimited amount of e-mail subscriptions or feeds. If you start getting spam in your feed you will have a good idea of where it originated from (since each feed can have its own bloglines e-mail address).

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